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Tara Lipinski, Johnny Weir preview Grand Prix Final men’s, pairs competitions

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There was some debate about the Grand Prix Final men’s competition two weeks ago, but now there is a clear favorite.

Japan’s Yuzuru Hanyu is expected to become the first man to win three straight titles at the Grand Prix Final, the most prestigious annual figure skating competition outside of the World Championships (in Boston next spring).

The Barcelona event, which features the top six (or seven) skaters per discipline from this fall, takes place this weekend.

Icenetwork.com will provide live coverage of all programs for subscribers. NBC will air coverage Dec. 20 from 4-6 p.m. ET.

Here’s the schedule:

Thursday
Pairs short program — 2:30 p.m. ET
Men’s short program — 3:55 p.m. ET

Friday
Short dance — 1:05 p.m. ET
Pairs free skate — 2:20 p.m. ET
Women’s short program — 3:55 p.m. ET

Saturday
Free dance — 11:25 p.m. ET
Women’s free skate — 1:45 p.m. ET
Men’s free skate — 3 p.m. ET

Here are men’s and pairs previews with thoughts from NBC Olympics analysts Tara Lipinski and Johnny Weir:

Men’s Field (Best Grand Prix qualifying total score)
Yuzuru Hanyu
(322.40 WR) — 2014 Olympic, World champ, 2013-14 GPF champ
Javier Fernandez (271.43) — 2015 World champ
Patrick Chan (271.14) — 2011-13 World champ, 2014 Olympic silver medalist
Jin Boyang (266.43) — 2015 World junior silver medalist
Shoma Uno (257.43) — 2015 World junior champ
Daisuke Murakami (252.25) — Grand Prix Final debut

Preview
Japan’s Hanyu is favored to become the first man to win three straight Grand Prix Finals, two weeks after he shattered the short program and free skate records under the decade-old scoring system at NHK Trophy in Japan.

The field includes the last three men to win World titles in Hanyu, Fernandez and Chan.

Spain’s Fernandez, the home-ice favorite who beat Hanyu at last season’s Worlds, was the only singles skater to win both of their Grand Prix series events this fall and could have been the favorite until Hanyu’s effort in Japan.

Chan returned after a one-year break from competition to win Skate Canada (over Hanyu) in October.

Jin and Uno, both born in 1997, are senior-level rookies this season and may be wildcards. Both are known for their strong quadruple jumps.

Lipinski’s Take
“Watching [Hanyu] skate in Japan, it’s hard to imagine what could beat that. But I think if there’s anyone that can beat that, it is Javi. If Yuzu skates the way that he did in Japan, and Javi skates clean, of course it’s going to go to Yuzu. But I feel like Yuzu can’t make that many missteps because Javi with three quads [in a free skate], he’s a threat. I would definitely say it’s Yuzuru’s to lose, but I don’t think it’s as wide of a gap as everyone thinks.”

Weir’s Take
“Riding the high off the performance at Grand Prix Japan, I don’t know how Yuzuru’s going to deal with that. I mean, it’s a lot of pressure he’s put on himself, to be better than himself. But even if he skated like that and made one mistake, he’d still have it all over the other men.”

“Patrick Chan is having somewhat of a slow comeback. He was great at Skate Canada and rough at Grand Prix France in the short program. Javi is great and wonderful, but he does consistently make mistakes. I think if you’re comparing those top three guys at the moment, Yuzu is the one to beat. And he is almost untouchable, if he can deliver like that [in Japan]. But he’s got Shoma Uno, who also is skating very well, gets big scores. But I don’t know if Shoma is quite ready to outscore Yuzuru.”

“You can definitely call Shoma Uno and Boyang Jin the rookies of the Grand Prix Final, it’s both of their first Grand Prix Finals, so it’s an obvious thing to say that. But in two [Grand Prix series] competitions they were both able to put out so many wonderful quads, quad Lutz being the most important. … If we’re considering that Yuzu can skate the same as he did at the Grand Prix of Japan, and everyone’s fighting for second, I wouldn’t mind predicting Shoma Uno as a possible silver medalist.”

MORE: Weir ranks Hanyu’s record skates with his all-time favorites

Pairs Field
Meagan Duhamel/Eric Radford
— Canada
Yuko Kavaguti/Alexander Smirnov — Russia
Ksenia Stolbova/Fedor Klimov — Russia
Alexa Scimeca/Chris Knierim — U.S.
Yu Xiaoyu/Jin Yang — China
Julianna Seguin/Charlie Bilodeau — Canada
Peng Cheng/Zhang Hao — China

Preview
The World champions Duhamel and Radford were the only pair to win both of their qualifying events, but both Russian pairs were within two points of the Canadians’ top score this fall.

Notably absent are Olympic champions Tatyana Volosozhar and Maksim Trankov and World silver medalists Sui Wenjing and Han Cong, done for the fall due to injuries.

Scimeca and Knierim are the first U.S. pair to make the Grand Prix Final since 2007.

Lipinski’s Take
“What’s exciting is we’re missing a few of the top teams, and that’s a great opportunity for these other skaters, especially now having a U.S. team in the mix, for U.S. pairs that is such a milestone. Are [Scimeca and Knierim] going to win this event? Probably not, but I think this is sort of the time for them to start wedging their way into the top pack of pairs skaters. Meagan and Eric, I love them, there is just something that just sets their skating apart from every other team. It’s always so hard to predict who’s going to come out on top, but I think that they have it.”

Weir’s Take
“I am in love with the programs of Ksenia Stolbova and Fedor Klimov from Russia. They haven’t been so consistent this year, but what they have is a style and a presence that’s very, not sultry, but very empowered and very powerful to the audience. If they can get their technical elements together, I definitely think they’re my favorite to take the title. But expect strong performances from Duhamel/Radford. And it’s very exciting that Scimeca and Knierim are in the Final as well. I don’t know how they’ll factor into the medals at the Grand Prix Final, but it’s certainly wonderful that American pairs is back, stepping in the right direction with this team.”

MORE: Ashley Wagner eyes history at Grand Prix Final after ‘disaster’ in Japan

USOPC proposes more athletes on board as part of overhaul

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DENVER (AP) — The U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee is proposing an increase in athlete representation on its board and a recasting of its mission statement to include the job of promoting athletes’ well-being.

These changes are part of a proposal, released Monday, to rewrite the USOPC bylaws.

The rewrite comes 20 days after federal lawmakers — looking for a shake-up in the wake of the sex-abuse scandal that has tainted the U.S. Olympic movement — proposed their own drastic overhaul of the law governing the USOPC.

The USOPC portrayed its proposals as merely a first step, and, indeed, the measures lack many of Congress’ more aggressive proposals.

But they would heed athletes’ calls for more representation, by increasing their makeup on the board from 20% to 33%.

They would also change the mission statement to read: “empower Team USA athletes to achieve sustained competitive excellence and well-being,” where previously the well-being part was not mentioned.

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Why a 62-year-old played at the world badminton championships

Mathew Fogarty
Courtesy Mathew Fogarty
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Mathew Fogarty said badminton’s European elite made fun of him for playing professionally at age 59. That was three years ago. Fogarty still competes at the sport’s highest level, taking part in the world championships that began Monday in Basel, Switzerland.

Fogarty, who turns 63 on Oct. 30, is older than any U.S. Olympian in any sport since the St. Louis 1904 Games, according to the OlyMADMen.

“I play because I can, and I’m a doctor, and I think sports is a really important part of people’s health and fitness,” said Fogarty, who has played competitively since age 7, whose full-time job is a psychoanalyst and who is based in the Los Angeles area. “I’ll stop badminton when I can no longer qualify. There’s still opportunity, and I love the sport. I’m going to continue to do the best I can.”

He lost in the first round of mixed doubles at worlds on Monday. Fogarty and partner Isabel Zhong, a 27-year-old with an IMBD profile, saw their world championships end in 23 minutes, a 21-9, 21-10 loss to a Ukrainian pair.

That was more competitive than Fogarty’s last two worlds appearances — a 21-6, 21-4 loss with Zhong in 2018 and a 21-2, 21-4 loss with another partner in 2017. Fogarty’s only international match wins in the last two years came via walkover or the one time his singles opponent retired after three points, according to his World Badminton Federation profile. He won an international tournament as recently as 2011 and said his career-high mixed doubles world ranking was 32.

He and Zhong paired because they were part of the same Manhattan Beach Badminton Club, and she wanted to qualify for the 2020 Tokyo Games, Fogarty said. Zhong did not respond to an interview request.

“I told her I didn’t know if we could do it, but we could try,” Fogarty said. “It’s extremely remote [chances] … slim to nil.”

The top mixed doubles team from the North and South American region is in line to qualify for the Olympics. The leaders in qualifying so far are Canadians ranked 19th in the world. Fogarty and Zhong, though they are the only U.S. mixed doubles team at worlds, are 67th in the world in Olympic qualifying and third among Americans.

The U.S. has never earned an Olympic medal in badminton, which debuted at the 1992 Barcelona Games. Mixed doubles was added starting at Atlanta 1996, but the U.S. has put just one mixed team into an Olympics, getting swept out of pool play in Rio.

Fogarty, who has never played at the Olympics, is able to play at worlds for a few reasons: he can fund his way to international events to accumulate ranking points; the U.S. is historically weak and has a lack of players with professional ambitions; mixed doubles is the least common of the Olympic disciplines.

“Matt takes it seriously,” said Dean Schoppe, a fellow 62-year-old who has known and played with Fogarty for nearly a half-century. Schoppe recently retired from pro badminton himself. “Matt still approaches the matches with the actual idea of winning,”

Schoppe called Fogarty the best American junior player of his generation in the late 1970s.

“Most badminton players retire at about 26 or 27 with their first catastrophic injury, which is usually a torn Achilles,” he said. “There are people who are born [to play], you see it in every sport. Magic Johnson, they have the peripheral vision. They have the balance. They have all the intangibles that other people have to try to learn and can’t.

“He has the gift. He can look at you peripherally and see that you’re leaning. … Fogarty can hold the serve and turn his shoulders and do crap that makes you fall over, and that infuriates.”

Mathew Fogarty
Badmintonphoto/BWF

Fogarty took breaks from the sport for medical school in the 1980s and ’90s. He returned in the late 1990s and kept playing deep into his 40s, 50s and now 60s in part, he said, to challenge corruption within the sport.

Fogarty had legal battles with USA Badminton. He said that past officials broke up his Olympic hopeful partnership with a teenager in men’s doubles to push others toward the 2000 Sydney Games.

“The last thing they wanted was a 42-year-old with an 18-year-old trying to make the Olympics,” Schoppe said.

USA Badminton recently had mass resignations among its board and top officials amid reports of the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee threatening decertification.

USA Badminton’s new interim CEO, 1992 and 1996 Olympian Linda French, declined comment on Fogarty’s past issues with the organization because she was not formally involved at the time.

“We’re hopeful to move forward in a positive manner and wish all our athletes continued success,” French said.

Fogarty does not know how much longer he will travel the world, or even the U.S., to play competitively. A 43-year-old told him at a recent event that Fogarty was his inspiration to keep playing.

“The nature of sports is you can’t predict what it’s going to be,” Fogarty said.

Schoppe dismissed a question of whether it’s easier to play badminton at such a ripe age than other physically demanding sports.

“Imagine pulling out James Worthy and say, OK, James you are now starting for Golden State and you’re playing the Lakers tomorrow,” Schoppe said. “You cannot be old in badminton and do well in badminton. It’s nothing like baseball.

“We were the anomaly of anomalies to have success in our 40s. Nobody does.”

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